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Art History, Curating and Visual Studies


                Photograph of Barber Fine Art Library Interior            The Barber Fine Art Library  in the Barber Institute of Art is open to all members of  the University of Birmingham and visitors contains general and specialist research level about European schools of painting from the early Renaissance to twenty-first century, the history of collection, and some Byzantine art. Please note that books cannot be borrowed from the library. The Main Library contains a wide range of art books for loan.

The collection includes:

  • Monographs, catalogues raisonnées, and pamphlets
  • Exhibition catalogues and catalogues of permanent collections and guide books from galleries around the world including some eighteenth and nineteenth century material;
  • An internationally important collection of sales catalogues from major auction houses dating back to the late seventeenth century;

Many books belonging to the Barber Fine Art Library are shelved in the Research Reserve and should be requested through FindIt.

Rare and antiquarian books belonging to the Barber Fine Art Library are located in the Cadbury Research Library  along with a number of important archive collections available for research. These include extensive original 19th century artwork of Sir Lawrence Alma-TademaJohn Hardman & Co., Birmingham, stained glass window designs, 19th-20th century; and a collection of more than 2000 Soviet propaganda posters, spanning the period from the 1917 revolution until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Please contact the Cadbury Research Library if you would like further details.

Catalogues raisonnés

A catalogue raisonné is an authoritative, comprehensive, annotated compilation of all the known works of an artist. Catalogues raisonnés are important tools for researching attribution and provenance of artworks. They are also known as  

• Oeuvre

• Catalogo Ragionato

• Opera Completa

• Werkverzeichnis

• Leben und Werk

• Complete Works

• Critical Catalogue

• Life and Work

The Barber Fine Art Library has many catalogues raisonnés. They are not shelved as a single collection, they are shelved along with other books on an artist. Some are in the Barber Fine Art Library Reading Rooms but most are in the Research Reserve. 

Exhibition catalogues

 Exhibition catalogues on display                 The Barber Fine Art Library has a major collection of exhibition catalogues with examples dating back to the 18th century. It is possible to see the development of the exhibition catalogue from small pamphlets without illustrations and containing the minimum of information to today’s finely illustrated tomes packed with up to date research. Although many galleries are producing online exhibition guides the printed catalogue is going strong and many older catalogues have not yet been digitised. Bear in mind that some catalogues especially those printed before the 1930s may not include much, if any, biographic information about the artists and hardly any comment and analysis about the works on show and very few if any photographs. However they do tend to list all the works  on show and they are physical objects that can help you to imagine what it might have been like to attend a particular exhibition. More recent catalogues contain more information and illustrations and some go into great detail and contain unique material such as interviews with artists.

Sales catalogues

The Barber Fine Art Library has a major collection of exhibition catalogues with examples dating back to the 18th century to the present. 

The earliest sales catalogues are generally simple pamphlets with basic information about the lots. A few such as the catalogue to the sale of the contents of Fonthill Abbey in 1823, stand out as substantial publications reflecting the size and importance of those sales. A few catalogues from the 18th and 19th centuries have   a small number of illustrations but it was not until the advent of photography that illustrated catalogues become commonplace. In some cases a photograph of an object taken for the catalogue might be the only published image.

Current sales catalogues are circulated among curatorial staff of the Barber Institute as soon as they arrive, they are then housed in the Barber Fine Art Library before being transferred to the Research Reserve.


Many of the catalogues belonging to the Barber Fine Art Library, but shelved in the Research Reserve, are annotated either by the person who purchased the catalogue or in the case of the Forster’s catalogues by the Clerk of the sale and record details of purchaser and price paid. A detailed study of sales catalogues gives access to centuries of data concerning the rise and fall in popularity and price of artists, schools, materials and also of the fortunes of those offering items for sale often as result of bankruptcy, ill health or changing taste.

Finding sales catalogues 


Sales catalogues are not listed in FindIt, except for a handful of 18th century ones which were catalogued for inclusion the Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue.  Some of the catalogues published before 1926 are listed in the four-volume work Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques intéressant l’art ou la curiosité,  compiles by Frits Lugt  but it is not accurate. There is a copy in the Fine Art library. Please ask library staff if you wish to use it.


For more about sales catalogues see:

The National Art Library Sales Catalogues  

British Library sales catalogues 

Sackler Library (Oxford Universtiy) sales catalogues 



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